Mazda’s SUV range had a pretty clear division between small and medium, but now there’s something in-between that could be enough to steer buyers away from its larger sibling.
Of the two Mazdas in this comparison, one needs little introduction, with the CX-5 having celebrated plenty of sales success in Australia. Its new downsized sibling, the CX-30, won’t be as familiar and has raised plenty of questions from CarAdvice readers.
The way Australia divides its sales categories sees the CX-5 listed as a ‘medium SUV’ and the CX-30 as a ‘small SUV’, but official designations don’t always tell the full story – there’s plenty of crossover from one to the other. If a car meets your needs and lifestyle, why rule it out based on size, shape or sales class?
Certainly, the CX-5 is a favourite with Australian buyers, often topping its segment on the sales charts, though beaten in 2020 so far by the new Toyota RAV4. Due to its newness, there’s no established pattern for the CX-30 just yet, so it sits a little further down the small-SUV charts.
Because a growing number of buyers are moving out of traditional small hatchbacks, cars like the Mazda 3, not to mention Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 amongst others, the more compact CX-30 gets to play in roughly the same space.
Pricing and Spec
The differences between these two are fewer than you might expect, and that’s certainly the case when comparing the flagship CX-5 Akera with the range-topping CX-30 G25 Astina.
Starting with the CX-30, the G25 Astina variant is the larger of two available engine options, and the car we’re driving is equipped with all-wheel drive, making it the most expensive way you can spec a CX-30 at $43,490 plus on-road costs. If you didn’t see the need for all-wheel drive, a front-drive version is available, as is a 2.0-litre G20, in place of the G25.
The CX-5 Akera shown here is, similarly, the top trim level of its range. With a turbo petrol engine as tested it wears a list price from $50,830, but a non-turbo version is also available for $2500 less – if you were to lean this way, the price gap between CX-30 and CX-5 becomes less than $5K.
At this level, the CX-5 is all-wheel drive and auto-only, and both cars use the same six-speed torque converter auto transmission and on-demand AWD that can be 'locked' for light-duty rough-roading.
Dimensions are the biggest point of difference. At 4395mm long, the CX-30 is a pronounced 155mm shorter than the CX-5. Its wheelbase is a little closer at 2655mm, or 45mm less than the CX-5.
It’s the same story for width with the 1795mm CX-30 coming in 45mm narrower than the CX-5, and height at 1540mm also shows a pronounced difference, some 140mm lower than its bigger sibling.
Tech and Infotainment
While the under-bonnet details between the two have plenty in common, the infotainment story is surprisingly somewhat different – although the balance of headline features is still close.
In the CX-5 you’ll find a system called MZD Connect, Mazda’s branding for the 8.0-inch touchscreen, rotary console controller, and the software that brings it all together. In the newer CX-30, the system changes to Mazda Connect, which is a clear evolution of the earlier system, although the touchscreen has been deleted and the controller does most of the work.
There are plenty of similarities between the two, like AM/FM/DAB+ radio, factory navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, and access to a variety of vehicle and safety system settings.
Because of its time on the ground, the CX-5’s system can be a little laggy or slow to load depending on what you ask of it. It’s clear and mostly well laid out, though some menu settings aren’t always clear cut.
With the benefit of development, the Mazda Connect system runs a neater menu layout, designed to work more smoothly via click-wheel inputs. There’s more processor power driving it, making everything smoother, too.
Being able to use a touchscreen when stopped makes inputting addresses quicker and easier in the CX-5, but the CX-30’s wheel soon becomes second nature, though the layout of some CarPlay apps clearly favours a touch interface.
Be that as it may, on the go the new system requires less time with eyes off the road thanks to its simplified and intuitive layout.
A super-wide-layout 8.8-inch screen in the CX-30 certainly looks slick and modern, but the low-profile aspect ratio plays against it for things like navigation and 360-camera views that get letter-boxed down and can be hard to clearly see.
The CX-30’s minor drawbacks make the system not quite perfect, but the system's performance and ease of operation in most situations runs rings around the infotainment in the CX-5.
Both cars push sound through Bose-branded audio systems, the CX-5 counts 10 speakers, the CX-30 claims 12, though on aural appeal the CX-5 manages a bigger, clearer sound if you really push the systems to their limits.
Looking ahead you’ll find a 7.0-inch digital display nestled in the instrument cluster of both, flanked by analogue gauges. The displays are crisp and clear, but whereas some brands allow you to personalise display info, Mazda keeps options to a bare minimum.
To complement the traditional gauges, a head-up display in each shows vital current speed, speed zone and driver-assist details.
Because Mazda is fairly proficient at keeping safety tech up to date with rolling updates to its range, the older CX-5 has managed to keep pace with the CX-30 when it comes to safety and driver-assist features.
Both share tech like lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, a version of forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking, and a 360-degree view camera.
The CX-5 counts six airbags, the CX-30 adds a seventh for the driver’s knee. Both wear a five-star ANCAP safety rating, though the CX-5 score was under 2015 criteria and 2015 specifications, while the CX-30 was assessed in 2019.
Overall points and protection ratings are slightly higher for the newer CX-30, though the differences aren’t dramatically different.
Perhaps most obviously, the differences between the two come down to the interior, and more specifically the space within.
As a larger car, you’d rightly expect more space within the CX-5, and I’m sure it won’t spoil anyone’s day to discover that’s exactly what you get.
Although the CX-5 isn’t regarded as one of the most spacious medium SUVs, it offers decent room up front and is still family-flexible enough in the rear to fit passengers from child-seat-sized up to growing teens.
At the rear, the CX-5 Akera is best configured to carry two at a time. The shape of the rear bench gives a lounge-like experience to the outboard positions, but leaves a high and hard centre position.
There’s a stack of features for the back-seat riders to enjoy. Within the fold-down armrest live a pair of USB points and controls for the heated rear seats. That keeps things out of sight, but can be a little restrictive when fully loaded up.
Head room is quite generous and there’s enough space under the front seats to slide your feet under, which is quite handy, but knee room is a little lacking and you may find those in the back need to push into the seat in front slightly.
Whereas the CX-5 is configured to be comfortable for four occupants, the CX-3 really highlights that it’s designed for two and kinda-sorta takes four at a pinch.
Mazda’s cut some corners in the rear row of the CX-3. While the CX-5 runs the same soft plastics and quality finishes into the rear seat, the CX-30 adopts hard plastics on the doors and the look and feel are less opulent.
Space is at a minimum. Even behind a short driver, rear passengers will struggle to find adequate leg space and the tapered, lower roof line doesn’t afford much in the way of head room. Pre-teens are about where the CX-30’s accommodation stops – once that first growth spurt hits, though, it’ll be out of the running for most.
Both do provide ventilation through the centre console, and like the CX-5, the CX-30 has rear USB charge points.
Up front, the much newer design of the CX-30 stands out for its contemporary minimalism against the ever so slightly more chunky look of the CX-5. Both offer a delightful choice of material selections with convincing metallic detailing, plush-feeling plastics and soft leathers, with softer-still nappa leather in the CX-5.
Minimalism may be on trend, but the lack of clear markings for some buttons on the steering wheel and climate controls in the CX-30 can be frustrating at first, particularly for two-car families who swap back and forth. The CX-5 may not be as trend-setting, but there’s much to be said for clear and concise labelling of controls.
The list of up-front comforts covers heated front seats with power adjustment for the driver, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, two USB points. The CX-5 does go further, though, with front-seat ventilation and a powered passenger seat.
While the CX-5 boasts rear seat superiority, it’s the front of the CX-30 that tends towards greater comfort. Redesigned front seats in the newer model offer a better sense of proportion, there’s more width to spare, and a slightly longer base cushion that proves more supportive for longer trips.
At the opposite end, as you might expect, the CX-5 plays the space card yet again. The boot of the medium SUV measures in at 442L, while the small CX-30 stops at an official 317L.
Both are accessed via a powered tailgate for convenience, but the CX-30 has an extra universal lock button to close doors and tailgate in one hit, which is lacking in the CX-5. The CX-5 counters with a level load floor, unlike the lipped CX-30, and has boot-side levers to fold the rear seats a little more easily, a 12V socket and bag hooks for added practicality.
The match-up of turbo CX-5 against non-turbo CX-30 perhaps isn’t the most even of comparisons, but it does highlight a significant difference. While Mazda has slowly extended the reach of its big turbo engine from CX-9 through to CX-5 and Mazda 6, the CX-30 hasn’t been given the option of the more powerful engine.
At least, not yet.
If an SUV with a little power to spare is your goal, that might rule out the CX-30 in favour of the more muscular CX-5, but there’s more to it than just numbers.
While the CX-30 is good for 139kW and 252Nm, both decent figures for the small-SUV class, the CX-5 turbo puts down 170kW and a rather prodigious 420Nm. Not only bigger numbers, but the torque figure, which is what does the heavy lifting for you around town, is at 4000rpm in the CX-30, but just 2000rpm in the CX-5.
The result is a much smoother, calmer drive around town from the bigger CX-5 Akera. With plenty of strength at around-town speeds without the need to push the engine hard, it’s easy to keep pace with busy traffic without the need to work it to the redline time and time again.
The CX-30 needs more encouragement to deliver the same, and it never carries quite the same relaxed air as a result. It can feel zippy, but you need to push the throttle further or select the transmission's sport mode to tap into the available urge.
You get a more fizzy and exciting top end in the CX-30 as a result, whereas the CX-5 is better kept away from its redline in favour of riding the wave of mid-range punch.
Mazda is heavily focussed on refinement after years of criticism for falling short, and the work shows. Both are fairly quiet on the road, though the extra revs and buzziness of the CX-30 can push through, whereas the CX-5 tends to be more hushed across the board.
If you were to race them against the clock, the 9.1 seconds it takes to get the CX-30 from 0–100km/h is convincingly beaten by the CX-5 turbo's 7.7-second dash. However, the non-turbo CX-5 falls to the other side at 9.7 seconds, if you were leaning that way.
On the road
Despite a close relationship in terms of what lies beneath their skin, on the road these two Mazda SUVs separate themselves quite clearly.
No doubt the result of a longer wheelbase, which puts more space between front and rear axle reactions, along with differences in individual spring and damper tune – not to mention a little extra weight, the CX-5 comes out as the more polished of the pair.
There’s an underlying firm side to the ride, which helps keep body roll to a minimum and provides more stability on winding roads or over undulating surfaces. In comparison, the CX-30 feels jittery and never seems to settle on average surfaces.
Around town, there’s a constant chatter coming through the suspension and into the CX-30’s cabin, and potholes or tarmac joins that the CX-5 could almost entirely blot out thump noisily through the smaller SUV’s interior.
If the idea were to make the CX-30 feel sportier, or perhaps more like a hatchback and less like an SUV, the end result is a swing and a miss. It takes what would otherwise be a comfortable and satisfying package, and gives it an unappealing gruffness around town.
The more compact CX-30 has slightly sweeter and more responsive steering, and because of its lower weight feels more responsive under brakes – all of which counts for nothing as you struggle to break past 30km/h on a typical grinding peak-hour drive to work.
It’s not impossible to live with the CX-30’s set-up, of course. Through gritted teeth at smashing over another manhole cover, or pogoing over a cat's eye, it may pay to remind yourself that the Astina’s ride is all about youthful appeal.
Out of town, the CX-30 does relent, and as speeds rise the small SUV catches up to its larger sibling in terms of ride comfort.
Mazda’s passenger cars, be they SUVs or traditional hatch or sedan models, are covered by a five-year warranty with no kilometre cap for private usage. You also get five years of roadside assistance should you need it for things like a flat battery, locked-in keys or a flat tyre.
A capped-price servicing program lets you know what to expect at each service visit, with Mazda’s schedule set to a 12-month or 10,000km interval between visits, meaning you may need more than one service per year if you cover longer distances.
Mazda’s basic service pricing doesn't always cover extra items that form part of the schedule, like brake fluid or air filters, though pricing for additional items is also capped. The first five dealer visits should come to a suggested $2092 in the CX-5 turbo, while the CX-30 would cost $2018.
That’s a fairly subtle difference over the term of ownership, though individual costs may vary depending on your annual travel distance.
Fuel consumption favours the CX-30, with an official 6.8 litres per 100km rating compared to the CX-5 at 8.2L/100km. Driven through the same loop, the difference narrowed slightly with the CX-30 returning 7.5L/100km and the CX-5 settling on 8.5L/100km, and both will accept 91-octane regular unleaded.
In many ways, Mazda’s walk through the range – from CX-3 to CX-30 via CX-5 past CX-8 and on to CX-9 – functions exactly as it should, with each step up the path bringing more size most obviously, but also more features and more comfort.
Although the CX-30 and CX-5 might be a little fuzzy in terms of their separation on paper, in person the size and presence of the CX-5 give it some clear space alongside the CX-30.
Certainly there’s more urban appeal in the compact CX-30; it’s made for city streets and right-sized for urban car parks. For one or two occupants at a time it’s roomy and comfortable, but perhaps doesn’t always work for all but the freshest of families, where growing kids just keep on growing.
While it may not have the fresh and spunky appeal of its smaller sibling, the established CX-5 betters it for ride comfort and refinement, though only just. The regular petrol engine is up to the task for an SUV of its size, but the optional turbo adds in performance and muscularity that the CX-30 can’t yet match.
Although it means finding some extra money to spend at the time of purchase, the CX-5 Akera feels like the more substantial of the two, even if its interior styling and infotainment aren’t as impressive as its newer in-house competitor.
Over time it’s a difference that may pay for itself many times over.